An offer of free services and a claim to help pregnant people in need with compassionate counseling are the foundational lies told by crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) across the United States. They lure desperate clients in through deception and offer only adoption or parenthood as outcomes, no matter the clients' circumstances. Some even promise prenatal care, but drop the patient once they are past the point of viability and can no longer legally access abortion.
Even with extensive investigations by NARAL Pro-Choice America and bills to prevent CPCs from lying working through state legislatures in Arizona, California and Missouri, these fake clinics have maintained the widespread appearance of being helpful counseling centers - albeit with a religious bent. The persistence of this reputation does more than just physically and emotionally injure patients; it allows anti-choice organizations and legislators to claim they care about women in a holistic way not exhibited by the pro-choice "abortionists."
Their attempt to portray themselves as the caring side of the abortion debate has ended, thanks to the recent opening of a new resource center in Bloomington, Indiana.
While full-scale reproductive health-care clinics around the country routinely offer referrals to adoption agencies, counsel patients who are unsure of their options and provide connections to post-procedure support, there has never before been a stand-alone location for pregnant people to visit that provides such comprehensive care as the new All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center.
A program of Backline - an online nonprofit famous for its "Talkline," which counsels people anonymously, connecting them to pregnancy, parenting, abortion and adoption resources - All-Options is able to expand on those services through in-person contact with clients. All-Options offers free pregnancy tests; peer counseling on pregnancy loss, infertility, abortion and adoption; diapers and baby clothes; support groups; and referrals to abortion providers, breastfeeding classes, HIV testing and LGBTQI resources.
Backline executive director Parker Dockray told Truthout that the foundational work of her organization hasn't changed. All-Options is, instead, the logical next step in expanding what they are able to do for those who seek them out.
"Specifically, we know that a brick-and-mortar space has power to build community and connection ... because it provides a space for people to volunteer and participate in supporting their neighbors in a concrete way," Dockray said. "You can donate baby clothes or pass out outreach materials or just help in the office. You can come to a movie night, attend a support group and be part of a community."
All-Options center director Shelly Dodson told Truthout that the center's May 2 opening is the realization of a long-held dream.
"We knew it would be an exciting way to deepen the support we could offer to pregnant and parenting people and also to expand opportunities for people to volunteer and get involved in their local community," Dodson said. "There is real comfort and power in gathering our communities together face-to-face to support each other."
There's no better time to expand comprehensive resources than during a public health crisis. What's happening in central and southern Indiana qualifies on a number of levels.
The launch of All-Options is happening amidst an HIV outbreak 70 miles away in Scott County, which has been exacerbated by cuts in family planning funding and the subsequent shuttering of multiple Planned Parenthood clinics, leaving communities without a nonjudgmental, reliable option for testing. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is not only opposed to needle exchanges to curb the spread of HIV; he also seems unsatisfied that 7 percent of Indiana counties still have an abortion clinic. Just a few weeks ago, Pence signed a new Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) law, which increases already heavy, unnecessary regulations. Meanwhile, the ultimate fate of a 2013 law requiring all clinics that perform abortion to meet ambulatory surgical center standards, such as hallway width and onsite equipment, is still unclear.
The intersection of issues addressed by All-Options could become a model for underserved areas across the country. While doctors are definitely irreplaceable, a hub for providers, advocates and community members that is not beholden to the slate of TRAP laws would be a life-saving resource that fills the gaps for LGBTQ people, the poor, youth and those who fear state feticide laws that imprison people for addiction, mental health issues and miscarriage.
"Like in many states, people in Indiana face myriad barriers - policies, attitudes and access - that make it difficult for them to find support for all their pregnancy and parenting options," Dodson said.
Dockray added that centers like hers aren't a substitute for direct medical care; instead, their mission is to comfort, inform and often refer clients to agencies such as birth centers, abortion providers and primary care clinics.
"When those resources don't exist, that makes things extremely difficult," she said. "So, we are absolutely committed to helping to bridge the gaps."
Dockray also sees a parallel to the promise CPCs make and the care her facility actually provides.
"We do see All-Options as replicating the best parts of CPCs - that they are community-based, free, unaffiliated (usually) with any provider of adoption or abortion services, and that they offer concrete resources as well as peer support," she said. "There is no question that there aren't enough resources available for low-income parents and families, and so these spaces are important and needed. The problem with CPCs is that there is not usually transparency about other aspects - such as a religious requirement for staff and volunteers, or the fact that they won't refer for abortion or that they believe abortion can never be the right decision."
By accomplishing the publicly purported goals of CPCs and more, facilities like All-Options can contribute to broader reproductive justice goals by breaking down the false dichotomy intentionally set up by fake clinics and counseling centers.
"Unfortunately, a lot of CPCs present themselves as neutral and unbiased, but in reality they are almost exclusively anti-abortion and Christian-faith-based," Dodson said. "There is nothing inherently wrong with that orientation, of course, but being misleading or deceptive about the values and limitations of your agency is not fair to women who may seek your services. They deserve to know if a place will not refer for abortion or believes that abortion is never the right decision."
True to its name, Dodson says All-Options is the first of its kind: a resource through every stage of pregnancy and parenting.
"In addition to the material support like diapers and baby clothes, we will also be making referrals for birth control and abortion, and starting the first statewide abortion fund in Indiana," she said. "We also know that 61 percent of women who have an abortion have already given birth to at least one child. These are not separate needs; the truth is that families can need both diapers and formula, and an abortion referral and support all at the same time."
Backline, and now All-Options, also work to break down stigma and extend resources to groups who are routinely marginalized by our health-care system.
"People of all ages, races, religions, genders and political persuasions get pregnant or are faced with decisions about parenting, adoption or abortion," Dockray said.
All-Options volunteer Angelique Saavedra said she donates her time so that others have an easier time obtaining unbiased support than she did.
"During and after my pregnancy, people with good intentions would tell me what I should or shouldn't do," Saavedra said. "When I called Backline's national Talkline a few years after I relinquished my parental rights to my daughter, it was really the first time someone normalized my emotions."
Describing how relieved she felt when the nonjudgmental Backline counselor affirmed that her uncertainty was normal, she added, "I want others to know about this open-hearted resource so they don't have to wait as long as I did to receive free, unbiased support."
The partitioning of reproductive health care has forced many providers to choose a specialty rather than treating all the needs of their patients. All-Options seeks to bring currently disparate aspects of care back together.
"For a million political reasons, many abortion providers have become siloed and cut off from the full spectrum of care, even when they very much believe in supporting all options," Dockray said. "That's true for adoption agencies, infertility organizations, pregnancy loss groups and parenting organizations, too; everyone has been impacted by abortion restrictions and politics."
She sees All-Options as sitting at the intersection where the services of those providers and agencies meet the needs of pregnant Hoosiers - an intermediary that could encourage similarly facilitated cooperation in other regions as well.
"Of course, we need specialists and experts, but we also need there to be more collaboration and connection between different types of providers," Dockray said. "All-Options hopes to ... inspire people across the board to think about how they could do more to support people in all their reproductive options, decisions and experiences."